Month: August 2018

Real Art Is Bound to Cause Offence

Artists traditionally have faced a choice: stay true to their calling, trading financial security for intellectual freedom—or put art aside in favour of a steady paycheque and the stifling strictures that come with corporate life. But in the current era, something has changed. Artists now experience the worst of both worlds: They still struggle to make ends meet, while enduring all of the oppressive controls that come with selling out. One well-known recent example is that of Anders Carlson-Wee, the poet who denounced his own poem after being shamed by his editors at The Nation. Stephanie Burt and Carmen Giménez Smith had published Carlson-Wee’s poem, titled How-To, in July, but then had second thoughts, suddenly declaring it to be full of racist and ableist wrongthink. The poet, too, felt the need to beg for forgiveness, telling the world, “I am sorry for the pain I caused.” But this is just one piece of a larger trend. There is a concerted effort among many progressives to pre-empt artistic risk-taking. They want the artist to work on …

The Dangers of Ignoring Cognitive Inequality

On Sunday 28 April 1996, Martin Bryant was awoken by his alarm at 6am. He said goodbye to his girlfriend as she left the house, ate some breakfast, and set the burglar alarm before leaving his Hobart residence, as usual. He stopped briefly to purchase a coffee in the small town of Forcett, where he asked the cashier to “boil the kettle less time.” He then drove to the nearby town of Port Arthur, originally a colonial-era convict settlement populated only by a few hundred people. It was here that Bryant would go on to use the two rifles and a shotgun stashed inside a sports bag on the passenger seat of his car to perpetrate the worst massacre in modern Australian history. By the time it was over, 35 people were dead and a further 23 were left wounded. Astoundingly, Bryant was caught alive. He was arrested fleeing a fire at the house into which he had barricaded himself during a shootout with the police. He later pled guilty to a list of charges …

The Problem with ‘White Fragility’ Theory

If you are conversant with the vocabulary of progressive discourse on racism, you have probably heard of the term ‘white fragility.’ The brainchild of sociologist Dr. Robin DiAngelo, ‘white fragility’ has gained much currency in academic and progressive circles in recent years as a concept that goes a long way in ostensibly explaining why it’s so hard to talk to white people about racism. According to DiAngelo, white people have been “[s]ocialized” to live with “a deeply internalized sense of superiority and entitlement” but they aren’t consciously aware of it. As a result, they experience “race-based stress” when faced with a challenge to their “racial worldview” because they perceive it to be an affront to their “identities as good, moral people”—an “unfair moral offense,” as well as an attack on their “rightful place in the hierarchy.” This makes it hard to talk to white people about how their attitudes and beliefs make them complicit in the perpetuation of “institutional racism.” In other words, white people don’t want to be called racists. Of course, the idea that …

Science Reformers Reduce Political Bias in Psychology

Psychology has a bigtime political diversity problem.  Psychological scientists are overwhelmingly left in their politics, and I co-edited an entire book with over 30 contributors (nearly all of whom are left in their personal politics) about ways in which that influences and distorts their “scientific” claims and conclusions.  For example, claims that advance leftist narratives, such as “the inaccuracy of stereotypes” have been advanced without any supporting data for decades.  Many other phenomena that seem to advance left narratives about the power and pervasiveness of oppression – such as stereotype threat, implicit bias, and microaggressions – have proven to be on weak or dubious empirical grounds. Can anything be done about this? Before addressing that, consider this: Psychology is in “crisis” because of a long parade of failed replications of some of psychology’s most cherished findings, especially in my home discipline of social psychology.  But scientific psychology (and many other disciplines) is plagued by more than failed replications. Widely accepted conclusions have gone wrong for a myriad of reasons, including suboptimal methods and statistics, insufficient transparency, …

In Defence of Combat Robots

Next week in Geneva, diplomats will assemble to discuss Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS). The precise definition of LAWS is contested but the Pentagon speaks of “weapons that once activated can select and engage targets without further human intervention.” Activists striving for a ban on LAWS call them ‘killer robots,’ language some find emotive but which is nevertheless useful for grabbing headlines. To illustrate, Disney/Lucasfilm’s K2SO is a ‘killer robot’ as is R2D2. In the Star Wars spin-off, Rogue One, K2SO—a reprogrammed Imperial droid fighting for the Rebel Alliance—kills about a dozen Imperial Stormtroopers with a grenade, a blaster, and his bare robot hands. More pertinently, existing systems like Aegis and Patriot running in ‘auto-fire’ mode also qualify as LAWS under the Pentagon’s definition.  Unsurprisingly, nations fielding Aegis and Patriot think that banning LAWS would be premature. Some analysts have suggested that we drop the word ‘lethal’ and speak instead of non-lethal as well as lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (AWS). In what follows I will discuss AWS or ‘combat robots’ that can deter, capture, wound, or kill. A …

Progress and Polytheism: Could an Ethical West Exist Without Christianity?

Imagine a Europe that resembles India. In Germany, France and England, in place of Romanesque or Gothic cathedrals stand temples devoted to a kaleidoscopic pantheon of local and state-sanctioned gods. In Italy, in place of the Renaissance duomo in the town piazza, one finds something resembling a still-complete temple to the Capitoline Triad that tourists might today visit in the ruins of Pompeii. Imagine Rome’s Pantheon devoted not to Christ, but, as the name implies, to all the gods. Imagine, in short, a Europe without Christianity. India is a provocative analogue for this alternate history because its temples remain open and enthusiastically attended; its ancient religions, though much evolved, are still practiced; there is a continuity, however vivisected, between the present and the deep past. By comparison, Europe’s Christian character represents a historical schism, between new and old, of unfathomable proportion: The ancient pre-Christian world of the west, though spectacular in its achievements, is a cultural enigma to us. In our collective understanding of western history, Christianity stands out as a kind of sui generis …

Danger’s Deliverance

We encounter dangerous things and seek to get rid of them, often for good reason. But what about when doing so makes the world more dangerous? Consider, for example: Parents who refuse to vaccinate create disease epidemics that harm children, including their own; School programs that teach children to “just say no” to alcohol and drugs backfire by undermining the distinction between use and abuse; Universities that encourage “trigger warnings” to protect supposedly fragile students may make them more fragile and vulnerable to anxiety and depression; Nations fearing the dangers of nuclear power turn to energy sources that result in premature deaths from air pollution; Efforts to prevent nations like North Korea and Iran from getting nuclear weapons have given those nations greater motivation to acquire one. While these behaviors are very different from one another, they stem from a view of danger as something to be eliminated rather than utilized. This is a problem because what makes things dangerous can also give them their power to save lives. Why do we struggle to see the positive …

Suspicion and the Corruption of the Liberal Mind

What is the difference between leftists and cannibals? Cannibals don’t eat their friends. ~attributed to Lyndon Johnson I am liberal to my core and like many liberals I’ve become increasingly disturbed by the escalation of totalitarian impulses on the Left. For the past six years I’ve been exploring the phenomenon and teasing out its underlying dynamics. While many writers and thinkers have been going head-to-head with extremists and confronting their ideological inconsistencies, the book I’ve found most helpful is Rita Felski’s The Limits of Critique (University of Chicago Press, 2015). Unlike other writers, Felski approaches the dynamic obliquely and her foundational point is more subtle. How we feel is almost always the first signal we have about the nature of our surroundings. For example, all of us have had the experience of walking into restaurant with a friend; all of us engage in some form of the following when we do: We stop just inside, pause a moment, and get a feel for the place. And every one of us has, at one time or another, …

Rejecting Progress in the Name of ‘Cultural Appropriation’

Another week, another set of manufactured outrages. New absurdities have been discovered recently in the UK as the Labour politician, Dawn Butler, has criticised the TV chef, and self-appointed guardian of the nation’s sugar levels, Jamie Oliver, for ‘cultural appropriation.’ His crime? Launching a product called ‘Punchy Jerk Rice,’ which, according to Butler, is ‘appropriation from Jamaica’ and ‘needs to stop.’ Until fairly recently the availability of global cuisines was seen as one of the few marked triumphs of multiculturalism. The idea of curry being a ‘National Dish’ for the UK was, as late as 2015, widely celebrated by left-leaning publications such as The Guardian and The Independent. This week, these publications signalled the illiberal transformation of their thinking by joining Butler in condemning Oliver. One eagerly awaits manufactured outrage from the British Italian community when they discover that Mr Oliver has a chain of restaurants called ‘Jamie’s Italian’ while, shock and horror, not actually being Italian. The very prospect of sudden outrage from once-respectable newspapers at an idea that has been perfectly normal for …

Banning Bitcoin to Complete Big Tech Censorship

Bitcoin’s survival might prove intolerable to our Internet gatekeepers. To rid the web of troublesome opinion makers you ban them from online platforms while terminating their ability to raise funds from supporters.  Corporate giants can use their control over Internet and financial chokepoints to almost accomplish this, but Bitcoin’s decentralized network means that regardless of how much corporate America hates some commentator, it can’t stop you from sending her cryptocurrency.  If a Democrat wins the Presidency in 2020, I predict a serious attempt to close this loophole by criminalizing Bitcoins. Big tech has awoken to its power and started suppressing views it deems hateful.  The Nazi website Stormfront was kicked off the Internet.  Facebook, Apple, YouTube, and Spotify all decided, on the same day, to deplatform Alex Jones.  Islam critic Lauren Southern has been kicked off Pateron, a service many use to raise funds from supporters.  YouTube has demonitized and restricted videos from Jordan Peterson, Dave Rubin, and Gad Saad.  President Trump has accused social media of “totally discriminating against Republican/Conservative voices.” Big tech wants …